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The Right-Wing Press and Violence Against Women: Terrible When Abroad, Ignored When at Home

To these outlets, progressive politics on gender equality is not evidence of a more enlightened view of society, but of a capitulation to the tyranny of egalitarianism

Feminism is for everyone. (Photo: knightbefore_99/cc/flickr)

When the U.K.’s Daily Mail ran a story about the rape of a woman in the southern Swedish town of Ljungby in April 2018, it spoke volumes about how the newspaper sees victims of assault, not to mention being one of the more grotesque examples of journalistic schadenfreude one could ever come across.

A journalistic schadenfreude that is, unfortunately, all too common.

The story was this: In December 2017, a woman in Ljungby met two 18-year-old men and followed them back to their residence. While there, she was forcibly held down and raped. In April 2018, both men were convicted: one of rape, the other of sexual assault. Given that there are thousands of women raped on a daily basis throughout the world, why would the Daily Mail decide that this rape, committed in a small town in southern Sweden, warranted coverage? The unambiguous answer comes in the piece’s headline:

“Woman who campaigns against the deportation of migrants from Sweden was raped and sexually assaulted by two Afghan teenagers she met outside a bar”

The hook to this story was not that a woman was raped but, that a woman who “campaigns against the deportation of migrants” was raped by two migrants. Reduced to its basest logic, the brutal sexual assault was simply a question of irony for the paper, and readers were not-so-subtly invited to wonder if the victim simply got what she deserved. Would the Daily Mail cover the rape of a woman who was an anti-immigration campaigner, only to then be raped by a man who was not an immigrant? Never. The Ljungby attack was about the perpetrators, not the victims. About their nationality, not the crime. About immigration, not rape.

"If there was genuine concern for the safety of women, sexual assault would be covered not as an issue related solely to immigration, but to widespread sexism and misogyny among men regardless of their background."

There are many levels to this story that are typical of how sexual assault is covered by the anti-immigration, right-wing press. In an example from the other side of the Atlantic (“Euro-Feminists In Meltdown Over Immigrant Rape”), a reporter for the Rupert Murdoch-owned New York Post wrote that, “The current crisis over North African and Middle Eastern migrants’ violence toward women is proving that the PC culture they have so carefully constructed is cracking around them, forcing into conflict two of their sacred principles: Blame whatever it is on the white man and, in cases of rape, always believe the woman over the man.” In other words, feminists are getting what they deserve.

These stories use specific strategies. First is the tactic of expressing concern over the relationship between immigration and sexual assault, when there is, in fact, no concern for the actual sexual assault. If there was genuine concern for the safety of women, sexual assault would be covered not as an issue related solely to immigration, but to widespread sexism and misogyny among men regardless of their background.

A great deal of time and energy has been spent by the anti-immigration press in the U.S. and U.K. addressing sexual assaults committed by “immigrants” and “refugees” in Sweden, for example. But, unsurprisingly, very little time was spent by the same media to address (or in some cases even acknowledge) the stories of sexual harassment, assault, and rape told by thousands of Swedish women during the #MeToo campaign. Particularly telling was the fact that a great many of these accusations were made by women working in industries that employ few Swedes with immigrant backgrounds — the Daily Mail, which made a major issue of the ethnic background of the rapists in the Ljungby case, failed to mention this fact when they reported on #MeToo in Sweden. So, in cases when the sexual predators are most likely not immigrants, their ethnic background is irrelevant. When, however, the predators are most likely (non-white or non-Christian) immigrants, their ethnicity is key.

Second is the expression of outrage over violence against women abroad, while showing little or no interest in the same crimes at home (unless they are committed by illegal immigrants or refugees). In 2017, mass murders in Bogue Chitto, Mississippi, and Plano, Texas, claimed the lives of 16 people. Both were defined partly as acts of domestic violence in which men targeted women who were current or former partners. Yet coverage of both events was sparse, especially so in the case of the killings in Mississippi where victims were African-American, and thus less “relevant” to a predominantly white news media. This is perhaps best illustrated by the phenomenon known as “missing white woman syndrome,” a term first coined by the late PBS news anchor, Gwen Ifill. This phenomenon describes how missing white women receive more media coverage than missing non-white women. Studies have shown that not only do missing white women get more coverage, they also get more intense, repeated coverage.

In the U.S., an average of three women are murdered by current or former partners every 24 hours, adding up to 1,000 murders per year. In a recent article, I noted that the likelihood of a woman in the U.S. being killed in a terrorist attack was dwarfed by the likelihood of her being killed by a current or former partner, yet it is international terrorism that receives the lion’s share of media coverage. Meanwhile, domestic violence is lucky to receive even meager media attention. This lack of coverage, I wrote, is both a byproduct of, and contributor to, an environment in which violence against women is downplayed as a serious issue, and even normalized.

Finally, the coverage of violence against women of the kind produced by the far-right press is often made in conjunction with attacks on feminism. Thus, while on the one hand these outlets piggyback violence against women in the service of a xenophobic platform, on the other they belittle the efforts of women in their home countries (and abroad) to fight against the very patriarchy and misogyny that generates and rationalizes violence against women. Feminism, for these outlets, is not about an end to discrimination and violence. Feminism, for these outlets, is about the undermining and ultimate destruction of a male-dominated society, which will lead to an army of metrosexual men who are unable to “protect their women” from hoards of immigrants and refugees. What is needed, in their view, is not an end to misogyny and structural discrimination, but rather the simple acceptance of male superiority in exchange for protection from The Other.

This brings us back to the story in the Daily Mail: It is no coincidence that Sweden is a favorite punching bag for the far-right press, as the country is a well-known haven of radical feminism. To these outlets, progressive politics on gender equality is not evidence of a more enlightened view of society, but of a capitulation to the tyranny of egalitarianism. This is not a discourse relegated to the margins of media society, but one now firmly entrenched within mainstream politics. For the Daily Mail and their journalistic ilk, the rape in Ljungby was a symbol of the irony of Swedish feminists creating a generation of men now unwilling and unable to “protect” them from Other men unencumbered by such effete, politically correct sensibilities. This feminism is also de facto linked, as noted in the New York Post piece, to a supposedly liberal policy on immigration.

So, women get what they deserve, is the thinking. And the media? Well, they are simply there to point that out.

This is the world we live in. This is the world we cover.

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Christian Christensen

Christian Christensen

Christian Christensen, American in Sweden, is Professor of Journalism at Stockholm University. Follow him on Twitter: @ChrChristensen

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